New ‘King Arthur’ Flick Better Seen At Home

‘I’ On Culture

The new movie King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is a fairly enjoyable mess. Any time the minimal plot runs out of ideas, director Guy Ritchie offers up a computer-graphic monster or a quick edit of things in the past or future to keep you occupied. Afterward, you wonder why you sat through the whole thing, but then realize that it did sort of keep you from falling asleep.

This is not the standard King Arthur story that most of us know. Who needs Queen Guinevere or Sir Lancelot and their betrayal of Arthur? This is a new and, well… not improved, story. The idea of pulling the sword from a stone is there, but, in rather a different way.

King Uther (Eric Bana) loses his kingdom to his evil brother Voldemort… er, Vortigern (Jude Law), who manages to have huge elephants do a lot of the damage to Uther’s castle. When things get tough, he sacrifices a family member to some evil something-or-others that look like witches combined with giant squids and becomes a huge CGI killer. He takes out Uther, who manages to get his very young son free, gliding down the Thames River.

He is found and adopted, not by a princess like Moses but by a group of prostitutes, and grows up to be a brawling tough guy. Somehow, he still keeps the name Arthur. With a group of friends, Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) protects the women until he runs afoul of the law. He is taken to Vortigern’s castle, where all the young men of the kingdom have to try to pull out a magic sword from a stone. He manages to pull it out and promptly faints, becoming a prisoner of his uncle. Also, it turns out he does not want to be king and it seems many people will not support him.

After a battle with himself over whether he wants the crown, he decides he has no choice, and a couple of major battles take place. There is a lot of action to help the audience forget that the plot barely exists. The final fight between Arthur and Vortigern (or rather the CGI that is the transformed villain) is effective, although flashbacks of Uther fighting the same CGI slow the action down.

This is a new, really diverse, view of England during the mythical time of Arthur. I quite approve of having characters of different races, but having one or two blacks as major cast members helps underline that they are the only members of their race in the whole movie. And how did a major Asian karate school show up there? The giant snakes and elephants can be explained away because of wizardry, of course, but are not used effectively.

The cast is pretty good. Hunnam is charismatic and looks like the young king should. I liked Djimon Hounsou at Sir Bedivere. He came across quite well as the old friend of Uther who encourages the young man. Aidan Gillen, Littlefinger in Game of Thrones, is quite good as the good guy and master archer Goosefat Bill.

Law plays the psychopathic villain well, although his suffering in a few spots seems more than a bit studied, and he looks strikingly like the Harry Potter villain. Eric Bana was wasted as Uther. He was exceptionally good and was killed off before the opening titles rolled, to be seen only in flashbacks. The only woman to show up much at all, the Mage Guinevere (Astrid Bergés-Frisbey), is a cutie pie, but there is not even the slightest bit of romance there and, frankly, she never quite came across as a powerful mage.

Ritchie made his name as a director for his fast cuts from one piece of action to another, building up a pace to increase the excitement. Here, at times it works well, at others it seems to go nowhere. There is one set piece where, I think, Arthur fights off all sorts of magical animals to get himself and the sword to an old stone, which is to provide him with all sorts of memories. Things bounced so much between him chatting with his supporters and fighting that I lost track of what was going on.

You may lose track as well. This is a film to see at home once you can see it without paying for it. I wish it had been better.